Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Saturday, February 26, 2011

And the Oscar Goes To....

Living in Hong Kong is great...but its not conducive to throwing a good Oscar party.  To throw a party for the Sunday evening event in Los Angeles would mean an early Monday morning here....not so good!   Now Colorado, there was a place to throw a party for Oscar night.  The Red Carpet would kick off about 5:00 and the whole thing would be done by about 9:00...making work on Monday morning bearable!

Anyhow, the local Hong Kong station will air the awards Monday evening here and I'll invite a few film loving friends over to see if we can recapture the magic.  We'll play "Oscar Bingo" where everyone gets a bingo card filled with random, sometimes crazy, events that always seem to happen at the awards.  As we see them occur we mark them off on the card.  But the real focus will be on whether our favorites of the year will win...or Black Swan

So my thoughts on some of the key movies nominated this year:

The Fighter:   True story of boxer Micky Ward's (Mark Walburg) struggle to overcome adversity which comes in the form of his white trash family including his cocaine addicted half-brother / trainer Dicky (Christian Bale).  With the help of  the girl (Amy Adams)  and a little grit though  he becomes champ.  Boxer movies like this are always Oscar favorites and with the strong performances of the cast I imagine some gold will be brought home on Sunday night.

True Grit: Jeff Bridges did what few could do and thats step into a role made iconic by John Wayne...and he does a good job!  What I found a little disappointing was Matt Damon who I usually enjoy in just about every role he's in...except this one.  For some reason when Glen Campbell (who had the role in the original film) compares favorably with an actor of Damon's caliber, you know something ain't clicking.  The kid was pretty good to but is it just me, or was she just getting on my nerves by the end?

The Kids are All Right  Closeted heterosexual Julianne Moore is in a struggling homosexual marriage with Anette Benning.  She strikes up an affair with their children's sperm doner father played by Mark Ruffalo.  Unfortunately society today is just not ready for heterosexuals to find true love in these situations and she dutifully goes back to her family.  Annette Benning gives a strong performance as always and I would not be surprised if she took home a statue.

The Social Network:  Unbelievable that a movie about how Facebook got started could be this good.  Chalk it up to an airtight script penned by Aaron Sorkin (for which he will most likely get a screenplay award)
If you haven't seen need to.

Black Swan:  Natalie Portman plays an innocent ballet star who develops a REALLY dark side during a production of Swan Lake.  Her acting level is incredible but the movie itself is the type of pretentious nonsense film that always seems to find a place at awards time.  I admit I only got half way through the movie before I stopped it and read the plot ending on Wikipedia.  Life is too short and there are good films yet to be viewed.

The King's Speech:  I'll admit it, movies like The King's Speech are like oxygen to Anglophiles like myself. Colin Firth as the stuttering King George V, and Geoffrey Rush as his unorthodox speech therapist has become the front runner for...well...just about everything.  Amazing movie and if it wins, it will be well deserved.

Toy Story 3 & Inception:  Neither one of these films have a chance of winning but the expansion of the Best Movie category to ten nominated films gives these two movies some of the attention and accolades they deserve.  I loved both of them!

Anyhow, we'll see how things turn out Sunday night.  Feel free to comment on some of your favorite films of the year!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ethan's Dedication & Kingdom Conference with Bill Johnson

Last Sunday was a busy day!  I had to speak at Island City Church in the morning and then race over for the beginning of the Kingdom Culture conference at Queen Elizabeth Stadium...all that while thinking about the 5000 word assignment I had due the day before for which I was granted a small extension. I played the "I had a new baby" card (which is very true) and was granted an additional 72 hours from the course lecturer.

The Sunday preach went well (it's always a blessing for me to go back and speak at ICC) and for me the best part was to have everyone gather around as we dedicated little Ethan George to the Lord.  There is something powerful that happens when you pray prophetically over a child believing that God is going to impart anointing even on a newborn.  For me, to hold Ethan out and declare before the congregation that we will raise our child in the precepts of the Lord is like the vow made before witnesses at a wedding.  Gabriel, Tammy, and I did it as a family and it was a special moment.

We then raced over to the conference and were totally blessed. The conference was sponsored by a pan-church organization called City Renewal and was supported by a number of English and Chinese language churches. There are few things Tammy and I get excited about more than church unity and how it can affect a city.

It was also a special treat for Tammy and I as we got to connect with some old friends and acquaintances that we knew when we lived in Hong Kong in the 1990's.

And Bill Johnson's teaching?  Put it this way.  I'm not a big note taker during talks.  (Actually if truth be told, I rarely ever take notes) However,  I jotted down a page of notes from Johnson's talk and realized in many ways it reflected the vision we had for Hong Kong when we were here 10 years ago.  To identify with the city, to be part of it not outside of it.  To create a culture that honors people... and then watch what the Holy Spirit can do...

Of course one funny anecdote, the stadium officials wouldn't let Ethan in without a ticket.  Even though he was newborn, he needed to have a ticket (and the ticket was not particularly cheap)  Finally the event organizers were notified what was going on and arranged for Ethan to have a complimentary ticket to satisfy the stadium ticket takers.  I enclose a picture with Ethan proudly ready to present his ticket at the gate.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Happy Birthday to The Gipper!

He would have been 100 years old today!  Across America, Cenetennial celebrations are being carried out to mark what would have been the 100th birthday of former President Ronald Wilson Reagan. 

I miss the Gipper!  He gave America hope after the malaise years of Vietnam and Carter.  Like today, the economy was shot, unemployment was up, and we were constantly told that Japan was the rising economic power that would eventually dislodge America's economic might and the Soviets were going to dominate us militarily .  America's Best Days were behind and we needed to accept the fact we were a superpower in decline.  (Anything sound familiar?)

Then a little known B-grade Hollywood actor out of California said, "Well, we'll just have to see about that..." and over the next 8 years put the pride back in America's soul.  He called the United States a "shining city on a hill" pronounced the Soviet Union "an evil empire" and turned the U.S. economy into a global powerhouse again.  Leaders of the Democratic Party were agast as their rank and file broke away to reelect him by a landslide in 1984.  The same year a young 18 year old Steve Hackman cast his first vote which proudly went to the Gipper!  What a time it was for Republicans....a time when we didn't have to canvess the trash bin for our leaders, we KNEW who our leader was.

I just read an article that said President Obama was trying to study Reagan to learn how he coped through some of the similar hurdles they have both encountered.  In the piece they quote Pres. Obama saying:

"No matter what political disagreements you may have had with President Reagan -- and I certainly had my share -- there is no denying his leadership in the world, or his gift for communicating his vision for America," Obama wrote in an op-ed for USA Today.  Observers argue that Obama is looking to Reagan to find out how to turn around a bad economy, reach out to the other side of the aisle and restore faith in the American spirit.

Study hard Mr. President ...Study hard!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hiking on Lantau in Hong Kong

Folk that don't live in Hong Kong often think of it as a hustle, bustle city crammed full of people, buildings, and cars...and...well it is... but its also so much more. Hong Kong is a pretty big place and what people often don't know is that its more than 50% country park. Get a short hop outside the city areas and you find beautiful ocean vistas, rugged mountain cliffs, and systematically marked trails to guide you through them.

This week is Chinese New Year so on Wednesday I had planned for Gabriel and I to go on a "short" hike.   At 8:30 AM Gabriel got up though and fired up the X-Box 360! Something rose up within me as I saw my son about to embark on yet another adventure into the virtual world rather than the real one.

"Get dressed and fill your water bottle...we're leaving in 10 minutes."

Of course I had to endure the initial despise that emanated from Gabriel for the next 60 minutes.

I decided on a nice stretch of a hike on South Lantau Island uphill to the top of the Island where the Ngong Ping Cable car village (and the Big Buddha) was. It was about a 2 - 2 1/2 hour jaunt and I figured we'd have lunch at the top and then either take the cable car or a bus back down.

We took the Park Island bus to Tsing Yi station then caught the MTR to Tung Chung on Lantau. After a little search we found the number 11 bus to Tai O but exited at the Shek Pik Reservoir. Just to the East of the reservoir was the trailhead but it had a large sign and a large brown gate that was chained closed:

"Danger: Due to landside damage this trail is permanently closed."

So I did what most hikers do when they see these things. I went around the gate and started walking.
"Papa, where are you going?"
"On the trail"
"But its says "Danger" Do you want us to get killed?"
"We're not going to get killed...lets go"

As we began to meander up the hill we began to look back and see the reservoir and the sea behind it descending into incredible views from our ever increasing height. Gabriel's attitude softened (as I knew it would) and before long we were having the father-son day I had envisioned. As we trudged along our little "fellowship" covered such conversational topics as God, girls, drugs, and world history.

Because it was a "closed" trail the normal encounters with other hikers didn't happen. The whole morning we passed no one having the trail and the mountainside all to ourselves and finally reaching the top Ngong Ping Village. This is a tourist area of Hong Kong where the largest Buddha in the world has been constructed along with all the restaurants and souvenir shops that inhabit these types of places. We had lunch at Ebeneezers which is an Indian curry fast food chain in Hong Kong. While we were eating I asked Gabriel if he wanted to take the cable car down (expensive) or the bus (cheap)?

"What if we hike the trail under the cable car down?"
" Huh!!" I thought. Was this my X-Box 360 loving son who I practically had to Shanghai to get him out hiking now suggesting we hoof it for another 3 hours back down to the MTR station.

"OK...lets do it"

We finished our curries and headed off for Lantau Hike Part 2. As the cable cars glided over our heads we eschewed such luxury for the thrill of the trail. We quickly discovered though, that although primarily a "decent" back down to the city, the trail went back up at each of the cable car towers so we had a extreme workout of non-stop accent and decent.

Occupants of the cable cars shouted out to us and gave us the thumbs up along the trail no doubt saying, "Look at what those crazy guys are doing!"

About two hours in we ran out of water which made things even more fun! Up....and down....up....and down! This was a lot more than I originally planned but it was now becoming a challenge for both Gabriel and I. At 4:00 PM we finally... successfully...reached the bottom...but then had another 10 minutes to walk before we reached civilization...and a 7-11 where we bought two large bottles of water and downed them while still in the store.

(Gabriel followed it up with a Slurpee)

Anyhow, wish I had a camera, but I pulled a few generic pics from the area off the internet of the area. It was a great day and one we'll do again soon!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What's the Internet?

Ah, 1994!  Seems like only yesterday.  The nation was tuned to Seinfeld on Thursday nights, The "Big Dog" was President of the United States, and when people wanted to buy the hottest selling album of the year by Hootie and the Blowfish, they actually had to purchase a CD after driving to the local record store.  Crazy times eh?  When was the last time you purchased a CD?

But 1994 was the year the "Internet" really took off.  Living in Hong Kong, before 1994 I sent and received letters, after 1994 I sent and received e-mails.  A friend of mine was a professor at a university here in Hong Kong.  He showed me web browsing on the "World Wide Web" in his office one afternoon and I was astonished at how, suddenly, information was available on near any subject with a few simple clicks.  I think it was that week that that I got my first dial up subscription with "Hong Kong Supernet"

When I saw this clip of the today show I was really hit by how much the world has changed! 

A couple years ago I read a fascinating article at the BBC (interesting enough written by John Taylor of Duran Duran fame) where he writes how the instant gratification of the internet steals some of the mystery of life.  He talks about how you used to have to scour magazine interviews or liner notes on albums to glean some insight into the life of a music star.  Now you just go to wikipedia and learn everything about anyone instantly.  Something is lost...people are addicted to being online and are increasingly becoming socially inept.

Really, for me,  it comes down to there being just too much "weirdness" on the internet...starting with the blog-o-sphere.

I'm the first to say I have enjoyed access to old friends that I have found on Facebook, or the instant face to face calls I have had via Skype.  Hey I'm writing this blog right now on the good old World Wide Web but truth be told, if I could click a button and eliminate the internet from our society (and throw in cell phones while we're at it)...I would.

I prefer the simple life... receiving a real letter from a friend in the mailbox, waiting to talk to someone on the phone at home only because you were AT HOME...and flipping through albums (or CDs) at a real store where you could talk with an attendant about music, movies, or whatever.  A time where I could sit through a meal without my  cell phone beeping to let me know I have received, yes, another text message.  I don't like cell phones and often...ooops..."forget" it at home.

 I wish I had the conviction to unilaterally pull the plug but society has deemed this is the way we interact now..

But I am still holding out in one area...I have still NEVER sent a text message!